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Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): On pensions, I was pleased to hear this morning that my hon. Friend's Department has found a way of correcting the mistake of the Government actuaries in assessing the Derbyshire police pension fund, so it will get back its missing £500,000. In view of the continuing pressures on the budget, however, and the need to review Derbyshire's formula, along with others, and to preserve our excellent record, including record police numbers and a fall in crime of more than 14 per cent. in the past year, will she give me an assurance that when the amending report on this matter is produced next year, the figures will be fully
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assessed and agreed with Derbyshire, so that there is no detriment to the service in that report? Will she put that in writing, in reply to the letter that I sent her last week?

Ms Blears: My hon. Friend is right to highlight the calculations in respect of Derbyshire. I am aware of the issue and I am giving it my close personal attention so that we can try to ensure that the police authority is not in a detrimental position. I undertake to write to her. I know that the force is doing in an excellent job in providing good policing to its community, and I want to do everything I can, along with my colleagues in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, to ensure that the force is not in a worse position than if we had got the data correct in the first place. I am glad to give her that reassurance.

On precepts, as I said, we expect council tax increases to be no greater than 5 per cent., and we think that the budget settlements for local government and the police authorities can help us in that regard. The Deputy Prime Minister has made it clear that we will use our capping powers if necessary. In fact, we were able to get possible police precepts down from the high 20s last year to about 12 per cent. by making it clear that we would be very firm in this area. I shall certainly take a close interest in the capping criteria and work closely with my hon. Friends to look at the impact on police authorities.

Since we published the provisional settlement, I have received representations from 32 police authority areas. I received 45 representations this year and 63 last year. Perhaps that reduction is indicative of how generous the settlement is this year and suggests that people feel a little more reassured by it. The representations fell into 11 broad areas and covered a range of issues. I am informed that none of them covered the licensing issues, which is interesting in view of the salience of those issues in recent times.

I think that I have dealt with pensions, on which we are making good progress after many years of not reforming the scheme. I know that many forces have been concerned about probationer training costs. We are now delegating training to forces themselves. Instead of training being done at the centre through Centrex, we are saying that it is important that our initial probationer training is carried out in the community. I hope that that will mean that we can attract a wider range of recruits, including people who have family responsibilities and who do not want to spend 12 weeks in a residential setting. Such training is now increasing, but we want to ensure that we provide some additional funding to forces if they are going to take on that extra responsibility of probationer training. We will provide extra revenue funding for the transitional costs of £1,900 per recruit, and there will be extra capital funding of £7.5 million to help that transition, and £4.8 million of revenue funding for forces that are early implementers of the new probationer training scheme. The fact that training will be done together with members of the local community will help us with neighbourhood policing, because we will begin to get some very different attitudes and work.

We continue to provide the crime fighting fund, which has enabled us to fund 9,560 officers over the past few years, and we have put £8 million inflation into the fund and £18 million to support the special priority payments that have been paid to officers carrying out particularly
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difficult jobs. We have also put extra funding into the Metropolitan police: their general grant increase is 5.8 per cent., so they have a good settlement this year. We have increased the capital city functions for the Met by £10 million, to £217 million, and they will also get specific counter-terrorism funding to enable them to carry out that work. They get £61 million in ring-fenced counter-terrorism funding, and the provincial forces will receive £35 million of revenue and £8 million of capital for that dedicated and very important counter-terrorism work.

We will continue to provide £50 million—we are providing it again this year, for the third time—to basic command units for them to use together with their crime and disorder reduction partnerships in local crime reduction initiatives. That has been one of the most useful funds for the police, as it is completely flexible and they can use it to lever in extra funds from their partners to drive down crime. That is why we have seen burglary, vehicle crime and robbery fall so significantly.

We will also continue to fund the community support officers. We have put £50 million into the neighbourhood policing fund for the extra tranche of CSOs, who are hugely welcome in communities. We continue to fund Airwave, and we are putting a final £17.3 million into Airwave support, because some forces have been delayed in rolling it out. I was up in Cumbria just last week looking at the dreadful effects of the floods. The local force did not have Airwave because the earlier foot and mouth problems had prevented it from putting up the masts, which was a difficulty during the flooding crisis. We are ensuring that it gets the full amount, despite the delay. It borrowed Airwave from its neighbouring force during the flooding crisis, and they found it an incredible improvement for communications. They borrowed the handsets and were able to use the system.

The street crime initiative has now been going for a couple of years. It should have come to an end this year, but we are again providing a grant of £6.5 million to ensure that the lessons from the initiative can be learned and mainstreamed. I see that the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) is in his place. I am pleased to say that we are providing some street crime moneys to British Transport police, and we are also providing some Airwave moneys and terrorism funding to them. I hope that he will feel that I have taken note of some of his contributions on how important the British Transport police are in protecting our infrastructure in this country. I have also mentioned the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which will be funded to carry out its very important work.

I commend the police settlement to the House. It is a very generous settlement this year. There will always be more that people want and more that we can do, but we have taken another £50 million out of the general Home Office budget on top of the £100 million that we took out last year in order to maximise the income and grant for the police service, because we recognise that that is a top priority for every single community in this country. Tackling crime, making our communities safer, giving people that essential reassurance and ensuring that the police are visible, accessible and responsive to the communities that they serve will continue to be an absolutely top priority for this Government, and results really will be delivered from the investment that we are commending today.
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2.28 pm

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Let me first and foremost put the Minister's fears to rest: the Opposition will not oppose the two motions. Indeed, we have decided that in certain circumstances, which I shall describe to the House, spending on the police will have to be increased further.

The Minister made specific mention of the settlement in the west midlands, and it would be churlish of me not to say that we are all pleased that the former Home Secretary, to whom I made representations, along with many other west midlands Members of Parliament, acted and that our voices have been heard in the Home Office. That goes some way, although in my view not far enough, to address the £27 million shortfall last year in the west midlands and, indeed, the £27 million shortfall the year before.

In any debate about this year's funding settlement for the police, we need to consider more carefully than the Minister did the context of rising police precepts throughout the country. The police precept increased by more than 87 per cent. during the three years to April 2004, which represents an increase in local taxation of nearly £1 billion. Assuming an average cost of £50,000 per officer, that could have paid for 19,110 fully trained policemen and women. However, because of the excessive costs and bureaucracy that the Government have imposed on the police, police numbers have risen by only 16,386 during that period. In other words, the public have been short-changed by 2,724 police officers. In the west midlands, which includes my constituency, the public have been short-changed by 549 officers. In Greater Manchester, which includes the Minister's constituency, they have been short-changed by 857 officers.

The Minister said in her written ministerial statement on provisional funding last December:

She thus said that an excessive burden would not be placed on council tax payers, but we dispute that judgment. Owing to the gearing effect, any increase in the council tax precept involves a high overall increase in council taxation. The average increase in tax doubled from 12.2 per cent. in 1996 to nearly 24 per cent. in this financial year. Although central funding amounted to 80 per cent. of police funding in 2001, it now amounts to 70 per cent., with local authorities left to provide the rest.

Let me be absolutely clear. Following a Conservative election victory, we will immediately set about the task of ensuring that Britain has an extra 40,000 policemen and women. The proposal is costed and it is an absolute commitment to be implemented over eight years. Some 5,000 extra officers, which is the current maximum training capacity, would be recruited each year. There are no ifs and buts in the proposal, and it will be clearly set out by my right hon. Friends the shadow Home Secretary and the shadow Chancellor in our election manifesto.

This year's settlement is at least an improvement on that of recent years, so it is to be welcomed. I congratulate the police authorities, and councillors and
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hon. Members of all parties, who persuaded the Home Office to reverse its clear previous indication that it would give a lower settlement. However, the Minister will forgive me for a modest degree of cynicism as I probe a little further for the reasons behind that.

In 2003–04, the average unhypothecated increase was 4.3 per cent. In 2004–05, the increase was 3.25 per cent., which had serious repercussions for forces such as mine in the west midlands. This year—surprise, surprise—the Home Office has decided to give an increase of 5.1 per cent., which is 6.7 per cent. when one takes account of      the increase in central funding for police communications, information technology and support services. It is, of course, a mere coincidence that that sudden burst of generosity comes a couple of months before a general election.

Nevertheless, was it really necessary to cause the anxiety to local government and the police that led this year to the Association of Chief Police Officers issuing statements of profound concern following Home Office briefings that the settlement would be a flat-rate, real-terms increase of about 3 per cent.? Is it really necessary to keep police forces and police authorities in the dark in such a way? Police authorities should not think that they are facing deficits of millions of pounds just a few weeks before the Home Office unveils the funding figure.

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